Inauguration Day Fun Facts: Flubbed Oaths, Dead Birds and Weird Hats

PHOTO: Barack Obama, left, is sworn in as the president of the United States during his inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Jan. 20, 2009.

As far as the Constitution is concerned, all Barack Obama needs to do Monday before "he enters on the execution of his office" is take a 35-word oath and call it day. No Bible, no speech, no parade, no ball.

That legally an inauguration starts with "I do solemnly swear" and ends with "protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," however, fails to capture the majesty of the moment, the continuity of American democracy and the singular importance of a tradition that began 220 years ago when George Washington reportedly ignored the Constitution and added another four words to the oath of office.

Obama too is expected to add those four words, "so help me God," which have been uttered by every president since Washington with the exception of Teddy Roosevelt. That extemporaneous amendment -- amid the concerts, parades and balls -- is perhaps the one moment all day where the new president acknowledges just what he has gotten himself into.

Washington -- being Washington -- also set the precedent of delivering an inaugural address. While every subsequent president has given a speech after the oath of office, few have followed in the first president's footsteps and kept it brief. At 135 words, Washington's second inaugural ranks as the shortest in history.

The longest inaugural address was delivered by William Henry Harrison. It was 8,445 words, nearly two hours long and -- if that wasn't bad enough -- likely killed him. In April 1841, one month after he was sworn in, Harrison died of pneumonia, believed to have been brought on by exposure to the elements on a cold and rainy Inauguration Day.

Other deaths attributed to the inauguration include hats and several canaries, which according to inauguration historian Jim Bendat, were brought to cheer up Ulysses S. Grant's 1873 inaugural ball but froze to death instead.

"In 1873, at Grant's inaugural ball, it was a bitter cold night and someone forgot to heat the place. The food was too cold, and everyone was bumping into each other because they were dancing in their long overcoats. But, the saddest thing of all was someone got the idea of having canaries to merrily chirp away for the guests, but alas the poor canaries froze," said Bendat, author of "Democracy's Big Day: The Inauguration of Our President From 1789-2009."

Popular belief has long held that John F. Kennedy killed the hat, once routinely worn by American men in public, by not donning head wear to his inauguration in 1961. But photographs prove otherwise. Not only did Kennedy wear a hat to his inauguration, but it was that most traditional of formal hats, a top hat.

"I don't know where that started or why people believe Kennedy killed the hat," Bendat said. "There are plenty of photos showing Kennedy in a top hat, thought he took it off for his address. If you're looking for someone to blame, blame Johnson."

Top hats were for decades mainstays of presidential inaugurations, petering out with Lyndon Johnson, who did not wear one.

If you're looking for truly weird, once-every-four-years head gear, look no further than the justices of the Supreme Court.

Some of the justices, such as Antonin Scalia did in 2009, don silk or wool skullcaps with peaked corners. The justices are generally seen together in public outside of the court and in their robes only once a year at the State of the Union address or the inauguration.

Chief Justice John Roberts will swear in Obama and Justice Sonia Sotomayor will swear in Vice President Joe Biden.

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